In my previous post, I asserted that Negro Leagues legend (and should-be Hall of Famer) Dave Malarcher was the descendent of the slaves of a transplanted French aristocrat who owned a sprawling sugarcane plantation in what is now officially St. James Parish but what has been colloquially known as Cabanocey, according to author Lillian C. Bourgeois.
In this post I’ll attempt to prove the connection between David Julius Malarcher, a.k.a. Gentleman Dave; Chevalier Louis Joseph D’Aspresment Malarcher; and Cabanocey, modern-day St. James Parish.
David Julius Malarcher unequivocally was born — and is now buried — in St. James Parish. He is a native of Cabanocey, a settlement originally monikered with a Choctaw Native-American word, Kabahannossé, a settlement that, over the decades and centuries, become home to both numerous sugar plantations and thousands of displaced Acadians from Canada.
When, in an undated transcript from a conversation with noted Negro Leagues historian John Holway, Dave Malarcher stated that his father worked a plantation along the river called “Charbony,” it’s likely that the name of that sprawling sugar farm was distorted from that original Choctaw word, a word that eventually became commonly known as Cabanocey.
On a note that seems tangential at best but is actually crucial to the Dave Malarcher story, different biographies of Gentleman Dave give his birthplace as alternately “Union” or “Whitehall,” Louisiana. In fact, in his conversation with Holway, he stated:
“I was born in 1894; that’s a long time ago, a long, long time ago. Union, Louisiana, that’s my home, about 57 miles from New Orleans and about 30 to 35 miles from Baton Rouge, right on the River Road, as we call it, Route 61. I was born right there, right under the Mississippi River levee.”
In that context, Route 61 refers to a portion of current LA state highway 44 that historically was called the River Road by locals in St. James Parish. One of the road’s major intersections is in the St. James community of Convent.
Likewise, in an interview with Robert Peterson for Peterson’s seminal tome, “Only the Ball Was White,” Dave Malarcher stated:
“The first baseball team I played with was called the Baby T’s. That was in the country around Union, Louisiana, where I grew up. This was prior to 1907. It was a little boys’ team and our mothers made suits for the kids. We played the boys about 10 miles up from Union, and we played teams across the Mississippi River, and then another team across the river farther south.”
Then, in a Hall of Fame questionnaire held in the archives of Dillard University in New Orleans, Malarcher listed his exact place of birth as “Whitehall (near Union), Louisiana.”
There are several communities in Louisiana dubbed Union and Whitehall, and I when I wrote this story for the Dillard U. alumni magazine a few years back, I deduced — erroneously, I now know — that Malarcher meant Union Parish, Louisiana.
However, Union Parish is way up on the northern edge of the Pelican State, far away from the fertile alluvial soil of the Mississippi River from which the Malarcher family sprung — and where many descendants continue to live to this day.
What I didn’t realize when I wrote that Dillard article — and what many historians don’t understand about Southern historical research, is that, in long-past eras like the one in which Dave Malarcher spent his childhood, in rural agrarian society many people of both races identified their birthplaces and hometowns not in terms of formal municipal boundaries — which, certainly pre-1900, were often still very undefined, if they existed at all — but by their proximity to the nearest social and population centers, which in the historical South were quote often large plantations — sugar, cotton, tobacco, citrus fruit, what have you.
After a while, when I couldn’t find any real, defined municipalities or even census-designated places named Whitehall or Union in Louisiana, I began to suspect that those names — the ones to which Dave Malarcher referred to as his birthplaces and “hometowns” — were actually plantations and the social communities that congregated around them.
That’s when I hit the books and libraries at Tulane University, especially the Louisiana Research Collection (LaRC). I thus discovered a handful of books about the history, culture and traditions of St. James Parish. The one that is perhaps most useful in this case is “Cabanocey: The History, Customs and Folklore of St. James Parish,” by Lillian C. Bourgeois.
In one chapter of her book, Bourgeois lists and describes numerous plantations located in now-St. James Parish. One of those sprawling farms? White Hall. She writes in her book:
“White Hall, which extended for a mile along the river, was one of five plantations belonging to Marius Pons Bringier. He came to Louisiana from France, via Martinique, and in 1785 settled in St. James, where his French Gothic home became known as Le White Hall. … in its heyday, White Hall equalled, or surpassed, any plantation in Louisiana and the tales which are handed down to us are as fabulous.”
And, fortuitously enough, Bourgeois notes that another plantation in Cabanocey was dubbed … Union! But wait, there’s more — there’s even an intimate connection between the two planter’s paradises!
Seems that Marius Pons Bringier, somewhat forcibly and without her consent, arranged a marriage between his teenage daughter Betsy and a wandering, worldly, ne’er-do-well named Augustin Dominique Tureaud.
At first Betsy was shocked and dismayed — and Tureaud himself was a little taken aback by Bringier’s offer — but both, whether they really wanted to or not, eventually acquiesced. And, oddly enough, it worked out, and in the process it helped connect the plantation dots. Writes Bourgeois:
“But stranger still was the fact that Betsy fell in love with her husband and they lived very happily on Union Plantation — a wedding gift from her father, who named it thus because of this strange union in marriage.”
And thus White Hall and Union — the communities, I argue, to which Gentleman Dave Malarcher always referred as his place(s) of birth — were connected by history. States Bourgeois:
“White Hall was divided and subdivided into many small farms and today White Hall-Union is one of the most thickly populated rural areas in America.”
All of which, I firmly believe, explains Dave Malarcher’s place of birth and childhood, which is definitely placed among the plantations of what is now St. James Parish.
So how do Chevalier Louis Joseph d’Apresmont Malarcher, his descendants, his slaves and his slaves’ descendants — whom I contend include David Julius Malarcher — fit into all of this? That, my friends, is for another post …